Abby Wilhelmi, a pre-optometry student at UND, remembers the first time her optometrist placed a pair of glasses over her eyes. “He led me to a huge window in the clinic, and everything outside looked bigger and brighter,” she says. Abby, who was in third grade at the time, says that moment is why she decided to become an optometrist. “I will never forget what it was like to have my sight restored to full clarity, and I want to provide that for others.”
For three years now, Abby has served as a volunteer at North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind (NDVS/SB), working on a variety of projects. Before signing on as a volunteer, Abby learned about NDVS/SB through UND’s Pre-Optometry club. “I remember thinking that this was a unique area for me to learn about experiences that are different than my own and be exposed to a community that I would likely be working with as an optometrist,” she explains. By volunteering, Abby has seen firsthand how many providers it can require to provide quality care and ensure overall wellbeing for patients, and she knows that her volunteer experience will help her in her future career. “I have been exposed to the resources that are available to visually impaired individuals. I have seen how the services provided at NDVS/SB can greatly help these patients set and accomplish goals and learn independence. This work will help me provide the best care I can for visually impaired patients by knowing where they can access these resources and professionals who are trained to maximize their learning.”
One of those professionals who works with individuals who are visually impaired is Amy Osvold, a Vision Rehabilitation Specialist at NDVS/SB. “It is so important for optometrists to refer patients for vision rehabilitation services as soon as possible,” Amy says. “When we are able to see the patient as soon as they receive the diagnosis, the adjustment to vision loss begins soon enough to provide hope – hope that they can still move about safely, hope that they can live independently for many years to come, and most importantly, hope for continued happiness.”
Abby, who will graduate next spring from UND, is grateful for her volunteer experience, as it provided exposure to something that is often overlooked in her classes. “As optometrists, we will have visually impaired patients under our care, and it is important to know what resources there are that we can point them to. By volunteering at NDVS/SB, I have seen how a school for the blind can make such a positive impact in people’s lives, and it’s an excellent resource to refer patients to who may be in need of their services.”
For more information on NDVS/SB, go to ndvisionservices.com or call 701-795-2700.